Fresh on a report in The New York Times that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI may be provocatively challenging the moral authority of his successor, Pope Francis — especially on issues of sexuality — comes news that Francis met with a British comedian and made what one advocate for queer Catholics is calling “groundbreaking pro-LGBT statements.”
According to Francis DeBernardo, who heads up New Ways Ministry, a 42-year old national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBTQ people and the Church, Francis, in a brief audience with Stephen K. Amos, responded to the comedian’s account of the rejection he has faced as a gay man.
“Giving more importance to the adjective [gay] rather than the noun [man], this is not good,” the pope told Amos. “We are all human beings and have dignity. It does not matter who you are, or how you live your life – you do not lose your dignity. There are people that prefer to select or discard people because of the adjective. These people don’t have a human heart.”
In a release from New Ways Ministry, DeBernardo said, “What is critically important in these latest remarks is that it shows the pope prizing the Church’s social justice tradition over the sexual ethics tradition… This is an important shift because while many Church leaders, especially in the US, often mention both traditions in their comments about LGBT issues, but the social justice tradition is often given short shrift in comparison to the sexual ethics tradition, and it often appears to be regarded as secondary, not primary, as the pope has made it in this comment. This shift will have great impact, as it is the way so many lay Catholics, but not leaders, view LGBT issues.”
On April 10, Benedict, who gave up the papacy in 2013, ended years of public silence with a 6,000-word letter that blamed child sex abuse in the Catholic Church on the sexual revolution of the 1960s. “Homosexual cliques,” he argued, were responsible for changing the climate in seminaries.
The retired pontiff’s remarks were widely condemned by advocates for LGBTQ Catholics, including DeBernardo, as well as by sexual abuse victims. But his arguments were in line with the views of some Catholic conservatives who have tried to scapegoat the LGBTQ community for the Church’s sex abuse crisis and have criticized Francis for what they see as a more permissive attitude on human sexuality.
According to The Times, Vatican experts say that Benedict’s recent letter “marked the most recent, and egregious, example of why having two popes — whose homes are separated by a few hundred meters but whose style, substance, and visions of the Church are vastly apart— can be so confounding to the faithful.”
According to papal observers, “speculation has mounted that Benedict has been used as a stalking horse by conservative ideological opponents of Francis,” The Times reports.